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Sex Offender Zoning Laws: Residency Requirements

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 02, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sex offenders face strict residency requirements. The reasoning behind these zoning rules is to keep track of people who are considered an official danger to society and to limit predator proximity.

There are national requirements for registered sex offenders and a national database exists to provide the public with information about registered sex offenders regardless of state boundaries. Individual states all also have laws regarding registration and residency requirements, as well as limits on what can be shared in a public registry or what must be disclosed.

Registration and Notification Nationally

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA, is part of a federal law that requires states to maintain a system to monitor and track people convicted of sex offenses once released into the community. Notably, states each define offenses differently.

An act that is a sex offense in one state may not require registration in another state. This is important because this fact hints at the confusion surrounding sex offenders and associated registrations.

Registration and residency requirements are supposed to make society safer. But if we cannot all agree on how danger is defined, we risk ruining lives. The disparate definitions mean that some people end up as registered offenders because they just happen to be in a state with strict definitions and registration requirements. Meanwhile people engaging in those same acts elsewhere face no residency restrictions or registration requirements.

Unintended Consequences of Sex Offender Zoning Laws

In Florida, sex offender zoning is so strict that a campground full of convicted criminals under a bridge in northeast Miami drew national headlines years ago. The encampment residents say they have nowhere else to go, due to strict zoning. And they are not exaggerating.

Some Florida sex offenders, choosing not to join the hundreds of other offenders at Julia Tuttle Bridge just take a sliver of sidewalk near a vacant lot owned by the City of Miami. State probation officers sent the sex offenders to this location, telling them they could legally pass nights there, according to the Palm Beach Post.

As a result of strict restrictions then, Miami's sex offenders all gather together at night in shady places. This hardly seems like the desired result of offender registrations and zoning restrictions.

Safety First

The zoning rules have created a situation that seems slightly less than safe in Miami and some other places. But sex offenders get little societal sympathy and have limited civil rghts as convicted felons.

People do rely on offender registries and zoning restrictions when making decisions about where to live and whether to invest in property. Although there are some unintended consequences resulting from these, it is generally agreed that keeping tabs on sex offenders, and keeping them off of certain streets, is a primary need.

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